Montana Flooding Isolates Hundreds Near Roundup

By Beacon Staff

Emergency workers on Saturday continued bringing in supplies by boat to more than 300 people in a rural area near the town of Roundup in central Montana cut off by the Musselshell River.

“We’ve got a helicopter if we need it for medical emergencies,” said Jeff Gates, Musselshell County’s director of Disaster and Emergency Services.

He said it’s unclear how many of the homes in outlying areas are flooded due to the Musselshell being nearly 3 feet above flood stage. But he said the river was dropping.

The National Weather Service said many rivers crested late in the week before dropping on the weekend, though much of the rain-soaked state remained in the precarious situation of simply having lost the ability to absorb more water. Dams have not been able to absorb the excess in some instances, most notable among them Fort Peck Dam on the Missouri River that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has ramped up to a record release of 60,000 cubic feet per second.

Jody Farhat, chief of the Missouri River water management office, said that could go up another 5,000 cfs in the next several days as the reservoir on Saturday was taking in 81,000 cfs. She said the reservoir is within 2 inches of reaching a record level and will likely exceed the record by half a foot once the snowmelt starts.

“Montana has been hammered with this record rainfall plus record snowpack in areas,” she said. “I would think that nearly all the reservoirs (in the state) are experiencing similar situations.”

One of those is a concrete dam forming the Gibson Reservoir on the Sun River that’s releasing more than 7,300 cfs, said John Blank, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. Downstream, the high water is affecting some 100 homes in the town of Sun River, located west of Great Falls.

“The reservoir became filled,” Blank said. “The flooding is primarily in that town. They’ve gotten the worst of it.”

Meanwhile, Montana Disaster and Emergency Services spokeswoman Monique Lay said the agency is eyeing the Clark Fork River in more densely populated Missoula in western Montana where a second and more severe round of flooding has been occurring this week.

Michelle Mead of the National Weather Service on Saturday said water is up to the foundations of about a dozen houses in the Orchard Homes neighborhood and at least two are surrounded by water.

But Mead said the Clark Fork is expected to drop to just below flood stage and stay there at least through Monday morning.

“The next seven days look fairly benign,” she said. “We will have 24-hour snowmelt, but it won’t come off at a real quick rate. The progressive pattern will keep us pretty status quo for a while.”

Officials said the majority of flooding in the state has been caused by the unusually wet spring, but additional flooding is expected when the weather warms and mountain ranges begin shrugging off a huge winter snowpack.

“The scariest part of this whole thing is we haven’t, for the most part, seen snow come out of the mountains,” said Lay.

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